Survival Lessons grew out of your experiences
as a breast cancer survivor, but you didn’t write it in the immediate
aftermath of your diagnosis and treatment. Why wait 15 years to share your
A: Memoir is so personal, and this book is especially
intimate -- it took me all those years to really process my experience as a
breast cancer patient.
Rather than retracing your recovery process, you’ve
chosen to write about the things you “would have wanted to hear” after your
cancer diagnosis. What is the most powerful piece of advice you wish you had
A: I've been given great advice by so many people --
the best may have been to live every day as if it was a little life, trying
to include a bit of everything, including work and spending time with people
You write that friendships may shift over the course
of an illness; there may be “before” friends and “after” friends. Did you
observe a parallel shift in your fiction? Were you drawn to a different
perspective in fiction after your diagnosis?
A: Yes. I am much more interested in survivorship -- my
last novel, THE DOVEKEEPERS, is one example. It's the story of the siege at
Masada. If I hadn't read there had been survivors, I don't think I could
have written the novel.
What was behind your decision to include real-life
activities like how-to instructions for baking chocolate brownies and
knitting a bee-hive hat?
A: I included real- life activities because those were
just the sort of things I ignored and was always too busy for. It was a
lesson for myself, to take time and enjoy making things. In my opinion, the
brownie recipe is the best ever.
You’re a prolific author, and you mention in
Survival Lessons that work can be an important part of recovery for some
people. Were you actively engaged in writing projects in the months
following your diagnosis?
A: Yes, I wrote the entire time I was in treatment. My
novel THE RIVER KING was written during that time, and I always think of
that book as a sort of life raft.
Your book is full of hope and humor—who wouldn’t
want to spend more time watching Johnny Depp movies?—and yet you don’t deny
the very real effects of trauma on people’s lives. Was it challenging to
keep that balance?
A: I thought of my grandmother's voice -- she gave me
good advice and even in the darkest times she couldn't help being funny. I
just followed her lead.
Much of your advice speaks directly to medical
patients and trauma survivors, but it seems that most people could improve
their lives by talking to pink-haired teenagers and taking a nap when they
want to. Do you think the message is also universal, something everyone can
use in their everyday life?
A: I do think the message of SURVIVAL LESSONS is
universal. No matter what trauma or difficulties one is facing, the message
is the same. Love is the answer.
Alice Hoffman is the author of 21 novels, including
The Museum of
Extraordinary Things. Her inspirational nonfiction,
was just released by